Vincent B. LoCoco – Author

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La Befana – Italian Culture

Tradition has it that La Befana, an old, poor woman – who is often depicted as a witch –  lived in a shack at the time of the birth of Jesus Christ. One night, The Three Magi, on their way to find the Christ child, stopped to ask for directions to Bethlehem and for food and shelter. Having provided their needs, the Magi thanked the old woman and invited her to join them in search of the baby Jesus. La Befana begged off, saying she could not leave her home as she had too much house work to do.

Later that night, while asleep, La Befana was awoken by an unusually bright light. Startled and afraid, she took it as a sign to follow the Magi in search of the Christ Child. With her broom in tow, she loaded her bags with candy and treats, and set off looking for the Baby Jesus. Unfortunately, La Befana lost her way, failing to find the Wise Men or the manger. Along the way, she  stopped and left treats at houses where children were in case Baby Jesus was inside.

And so, the story continues: Each year on January 5th (the eve of the Feast of the Epiphany), La Befana resumes her search of the Christ Child. As she travels from house to house, she drops off treats to sleeping children in hopes that the baby Jesus might also be with them. Of course, if the child is bad, they will get coal, onions or garlic.

A wonderful tradition in Italy.

Tolkien’s Oxford House for Sale

The home in Oxford where Tolkien lived from 1930-1947 and where he wrote parts of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings is on the market for 6 million.

 

The house and grounds are breathtaking.

Here is a link for more pictures of the home.

https://www.today.com/home/lord-rings-author-j-r-r-tolkien-s-oxford-england-t166153

Sadly, there are no round doors in the home. However, as shown in this one photograph, there is something magical about a door leading to the writing room of JRR Tolkien.


I wonder if the house still smells of pipe tobacco?

Chip LoCoco

 

My Writing Spot

Nestled in the corner of our pool house, is a small camp style desk. This is what I use for writing my novels.

If you notice on the wall next to the desk, are pictures from The Shire from the Lord of the Rings. Today, I came across a map of Middle Earth that I just needed to add to my little writing world.

 

Let me know where your favorite spot to write is and what inspires you to write.

 

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Chip LoCoco

Author

 

Antipasto

The other evening we had some friends over and as we set around the pool, we shared a lovely platter of an assortment of meats and cheeses- Italian style.

Antipasto is what this is called in Italy.

Please note – it is not anti pasta – and has nothing to do with pasta. The word comes from Latin. (Anti – before. Pasto – meal.)  So, Antipasto literally means before the meal and is the Italian equivalent of appetizers. It does not contain salad or fried foods. Most Antipasto dishes include cured meats, olives, peperoncini, mushrooms, anchovies, artichoke hearts, various cheeses (such as provolone or mozzarella), pickled meats, and vegetables in oil or vinegar. Here is an important part: You must artfully arrange the meats and cheeses on the platter. The more colors on the plate the better. The purpose behind Antipasto plates in Italian restaurants is summed up beautifully in the following quote. “The aim is to excite rather than fill diners, who will then be inspired to choose yet more delicacies from the menu,” writes Gillian Riley in The Oxford Companion to Italian Food (Oxford University Press, 2007). That’s why in Italian restaurants, Antipasto plates are served well before the order is taken for the main course.

Although what goes in your Antipasto is up to you, there are certain things you must have. Below is a link to a wonderful website that teaches how to create a perfect platter.

https://www.geniuskitchen.com/how-to/assemble-an-antipasto-platter-72

And of course, you must -MUST- have the perfect bottle of wine to compliment the array of meats, cheese, olives, etc. I think fruity wines go best. White wine – a nice Pinot Grigio is an excellent choice. If you want a red, a classic Chianti will bring out the flavors of the meat and complement the cheese. Although this weekend, I had an Oregon Pinot Noir, Eluana – which was perfect with our antipasto.

So, go to the store and have fun creating your antipasto dish and then invite some friends over, put the Bocelli channel on Pandora, and enjoy.

Buon Appetito.

 

Chip LoCoco

 

 

Award winning and bestselling author, Vincent B. “Chip” LoCoco, lives in New Orleans. His first novel, Tempesta’s Dream – A Story of Love, Friendship and Opera, became an Amazon bestselling novel and was awarded the Pinnacle Achievement Award in Historical Fiction. Amazon also has named his book as a Top Rated Novel in Italian Historical Fiction. His next novel, A Song for Bellafortuna, was shortlisted in the William Faulkner – William Wisdom Competition and was named a Best Reads. It was also awarded the prestigious B.R.A.G. Medallion Award in Historical Fiction. He is an estate planning attorney in New Orleans, where he lives with his wife and two children. He is often asked to speak to groups and book clubs on writing, all things Italian and Opera. Chip is a member of the Italian American Writers Association. Visit him at www.vincentlococo.com

New Orleans and St. Joseph Altars

Many centuries ago, there was a great famine in Sicily. The Sicilians prayed to their patron Saint, Saint Joseph, the husband of Mary. The famine ended and in celebration, the Sicilians created displays giving thanks to their Saint. The tradition continued every year thereafter on March 19th, the feast day of St. Joseph.

When the  Sicilian immigrants came to New Orleans, they brought that tradition with them.

For a traditional altar, the altar is built on three levels, representing the Blessed Trinity. A statue or photo of St. Joseph and sometimes the Holy Family — Jesus, Mary, Joseph, is placed on the highest tier. The altar is lavishly covered with prepared dishes, fish, fruit, vegetables, flowers, candles and wine, set strategically and artistically around the altar. Traditionally, the altars do not include meat because the feast day usually falls during Lent.

A St. Joseph Altar is all about the food, but with symbolism, which reflects faith and tradition.

Bread is shaped like crosses, Joseph’s staff, and his carpenter’s tools, including saws, hammers, and ladders. (St. Joseph’s bread is believed to have special powers. Throwing a morsel into a storm is believed to have the power to calm the winds. A piece kept in the house is supposed to ensure that the family will never be without food. A breadcrumb topping called mudrica, is sprinkled on pasta Milanese, representing the sawdust of the carpenter.)

Other symbolic foods include cakes shaped like lambs and covered in coconut, which represent the sacrifice of Christ. You’ll also find pastries formed like the pierced heart of the Mater Dolorosa, pignolatti resembling the pine cones Jesus is said to have played with as a child, whole fish symbolizing the Miracle of Multiplication, and wine recalling the feast at Cana. Swiping a lemon from the altar ensures one will meet the person you are destined to marry before the next St. Joseph’s Day, and each visitor takes away a dry, roasted fava bean for good luck.  Fava beans  are particularly associated with St. Joseph because they sustained the Sicilians throughout famine. Pick some up for good luck!

Chip LoCoco

Italian Historical Fiction Author

Ernest Hemingway inspired by Artists

In 1958, Journalist George Plimpton in his Art of Fiction series sat down with author Ernest Hemingway in a lengthy interview. One of the questions he asked of the great American writer was who inspired him. I find his response surprising.

Plimpton:  Who would you say are your literary forebears, those you have learned the most from?

Hemingway: Mark Twain, Flaubert, Stendhal, Bach, Turgenev, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Chekhov, Andrew Marvell, John Donne, Maupassant, the good Kipling, Thoreau, Captain Marryat, Shakespeare, Mozart, Quevedo, Dante, Virgil, Tintoretto, Hieronymus Bosch, Brueghel, Patinir, Goya, Giotto, Cézanne, Van Gogh, Gauguin, San Juan de la Cruz, Góngora—it would take a day to remember everyone. Then it would sound as though I were claiming an erudition I did not possess instead of trying to remember all the people who have been an influence on my life and work. This isn’t an old dull question. It is a very good but a solemn question and requires an examination of conscience. I put in painters, or started to, because I learn as much from painters about how to write as from writers. You ask how this is done? It would take another day of explaining. I should think what one learns from composers and from the study of harmony and counterpoint would be obvious.

What is amazing are the composers and artists Hemingway mentions that he considers as integral to his life’s work. Writing involves the totality of one’s life. Writers almost always answer that question with just a list of other writers they like. I love how Hemingway goes outside the literary world and names other types of artist who have all inspired him.

Chip LoCoco

Most Popular Italian Christmas Carol

One of the most popular Christmas carols in Italy is Tu Scendi Dalle Stelle. (From Starry Skies Descending). 

The carol was written in December, 1744 in NOLA. (No – not New Orleans, but NOLA Italy.) It was written by Saint Alphonsus Liguri, the founder of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer. It was written in the style of Zampogna (bagpipe) music.

The original carol was written in Liguri’s native Neapolitan.  Pope Pius IX, in 1870, translated the words to Italian, which is what we hear today.

The carol took Italy by storm. The Opera composer, Giuseppe Verdi, is reported to have said, ‘Christmas without Tu Scendi Dalle Stelle is not Christmas.’

Let’s listen to an Italian sing it. How about – Pavarotti.

 

Here are the Lyrics.

Italian lyrics

1. Tu scendi dalle stelle,
O Re del Cielo,
E vieni in una grotta,
Al freddo al gelo,
E vieni in una grotta,
Al freddo al gelo.
O Bambino mio Divino,
Io ti vedo qui a tremar,
O Dio Beato,
Ahi, quanto ti costò,
L’avermi amato.
Ahi, quanto ti costò,
L’avermi amato.2. A te, che sei del mondo,
Il Creatore,
Mancano panni e fuoco;
O mio Signore.
Mancano panni e fuoco;
O mio Signore.
Caro eletto Pargoletto,
Quanto questa povertà,
Più mi innamora.
Giacché ti fece amor,
Povero ancora.
Giacché ti fece amor,
Povero ancora.
English lyrics:

1. Thou descendest from the stars,
O King of Heaven,
And comest to a grotto,
In the cold, in the frost,
And comest to a grotto,
In the cold, in the frost.
O My Divine Child,
I see Thee here trembling,
O Blessed God,
Ah, how much it cost Thee,
To have loved me!
Ah, how much it cost Thee,
To have loved me.2. For Thee, Who art the world’s
Creator,
Clothing and warmth are missing;
Oh my Lord.
Clothing and warmth are missing;
Oh my Lord.
Dear chosen Infant,
How Thy poverty,
Makes me love Thee more.
Because Thou hast shown Thy love,
Even being poor.
Because Thou hast shown Thy love,
Even being poor.

Writing Historical Fiction

Tempesta’s Dream

Before the idea behind my novel, Tempesta’s Dream, ever stirred in my mind, I travelled to Milan with my wife. We strolled the streets of Milan, sat at its cafes, saw La Scala, the famous opera house, the Galleria, the first shopping mall ever created, and the Duomo, the great Cathedral of Milan.

I believe that an author’s main objective in historical fiction is to transport the reader to another place and/or another time, and to do so skillfully. Literary people will call this “escapism.”  However, with that objective, there comes a responsibility that the author has toward the reader. The author must take the time to describe accurately the place or setting that the author is using in the novel.

As I said, I walked the streets of Milan. So, it was easy for me to grasp that atmosphere when writing Tempesta’s Dream. It is reflected in some of the reviews I have received for the novel. For example:

“We can smell aromas as the author takes us past cafes and shops on the streets of Milan.” –Amazon Reviewer

“LoCoco skillfully brings to life the streets of Milan, so much that I could almost taste the espresso and smell the flowers on the cafe tables. Overall, just a very interesting, intelligent and believable book – 5 stars!” – Amazon Reviewer

“The author paints a vivid picture of Milanese life, populated with colorful denizens (most notably, retiree Alfredo, and Isabella, Giovanni’s soulmate) for whom the passion of opera is universal. Tempesta’s Dream’ will transport and inspire.” – Amazon Reviewer

However, in my novel, there is one place in Milan which comes to the forefront in the story. That place is the Casa di Riposo, or as it is called by locals, the Casa Verdi. The Casa Verdi in Milan stands as a towering tribute to the legacy of one of the greatest opera composers the world has ever known – Giuseppe Verdi.

Built in 1896 by Verdi, the Casa Verdi is a retirement home for retired singers, composers and musicians. Verdi’s dream was to build a home where musicians could retire in peace and be surrounded by others who at one time in their life were all involved in the arts. In his Last Will and Testament, Verdi granted all of his future royalties from all of his operas to help support the Casa di Riposo. Verdi said of this magical place, “The Casa di Riposo is my greatest work,” which is quite a statement when you think of his life’s output of his musical works. It is also at the Casa Verdi where Verdi and his wife are buried.

The Casa Verdi plays a major role in the novel as it is at the retirement home that our young protagonist, Giovanni Tempesta, pursuing his dream to become an opera tenor, finds Alfredo del Monte, a retired, blind opera singer, with a secretive past, who takes him on as a student. Yet it is the Casa di Riposo and the residents who leave there that actually takes a central place in the story.

Had I known that the Casa Verdi would one day take a part in a story I was going to write then I definitely would have made it a must stop. But, sad to say, I did not.

Which brings us to the point of this guest post. How can an author achieve realism in historical fiction when dealing with a real, existing place without actually visiting the location? In other words, how does one transport someone to a place that the author has not visited personally?

Of course, in the perfect world, an author would call his publisher, say I need to hop on a plane to get to Milan for two weeks to soak up the atmosphere and walk around the Casa Verdi, and then board that plane and enjoy a glorious two weeks with a pen, a journal and a camera, walking around the Casa Verdi and interviewing residents the whole time. Well, that will not happen for most authors.  And it certainly did not happen to me.

So what does an author do?

I think there are three things an author does when dealing with creating the atmosphere for a real place for which they have never seen personally.

RESEARCH. RESEARCH. AND RESEARCH: Read everything possible that you can find on the subject. Find pictures of the place and study them constantly.  Look for videos online. Talk to people who may have visited on a trip.  For historical fiction writers, like myself, this is the best part of writing. Discovering details about a place, all the while trying to figure out what and how you are going to incorporate it into the story.

USE YOUR OWN LIFE EXPEREINCES: The Casa di Riposo is a nursing home. My wife, for ten years, was a nursing home administrator in New Orleans. When I would go to her work, I would pay attention to the residents, the interaction of the staff and the residents, and the general feel of the place. True, I was not in Milan, but at least I could get a feel for how people react to situations, for that is one thing to understand, all people, no matter where from, react the same, with slight deviations for cultural reasons.

IMAGINATION: After steps 1 and 2, now the real fun begins. You let your imagination run wild, all the time staying within the parameters of your research and own life experiences.  And by that I mean, if the Casa di Riposo has more than one floor (which it does) do not make the building a one-story building.

By following those steps, it is hoped that a reader will completely be taken with the descriptions of the place, and in their own mind, they are sure that you must have spent many days at the locale to be able to describe it so well – when in reality the author never stepped a foot inside.

And even more important, will people who know the locale agree with the way the author described the place. There can be no greater joy for a writer to have a person very familiar with that location depicted in the novel to not only love the work, but acknowledge that the author nailed the description of the place instead of just throwing their hands up in disgust.

For me, after following the above steps, I had a great result, which provided me with great sense of relief. I received an email from the current President of the Casa Verdi who stated: “I offer you my warmest congratulations on your beautiful work that truly enhances the Casa Verdi and its’ residents.”

That certainly makes writing fun. So, in closing, for you readers out there, make sure you congratulate writers who do a great job describing locales you know well. And for the authors out there, live up to your responsibility, and take the time to get to know everything you can about a place, even if you have never seen it.

Chip LoCoco

New Orleans

Author of Tempesta’s Dream – A Story of Love, Friendship and Opera

Summary for Tempesta’s Dream:
Tempesta’s Dream is the story of an aspiring opera singer coming of age in Milan; a tender and moving love story; a testament to the bonds of friendship; and, at its core, a tribute to the beauty, majesty and miracle of opera.
Giovanni Tempesta always dreamed of becoming an opera tenor and one day singing from the stage of the La Scala Opera House in his hometown of Milan, Italy. But with no real training, his dream has little chance for fulfillment . . . One day, he meets and immediately falls in love with Isabella Monterone, a dark-haired beauty, whose father, a very rich and powerful Milanese Judge, refuses to allow his daughter to date a penniless musician . . . At the lowest part of his life, Giovanni comes upon the Casa di Riposo, a rest home for musicians established by the great opera composer, Giuseppe Verdi . . . It is at the Casa Verdi that Giovanni meets Alfredo del Monte, a blind, retired opera singer with a secretive past who gradually becomes his mentor . . . Could Alfredo be the one person who could assist Giovanni in finding the break he needs? Or is Giovanni destined to be on the cusp of reaching his life long dream, only to find failure? . . . Tempesta’s Dream, at its core, is an Italian opera love story. The author tells the story simply and swiftly with an ending that is both an emotional and poignant moment of both “amicizia e amore” (friendship and love.)

Sicilian Desserts

Everyone knows about gelato in Italy. Walk around an Italian town late at night, and watch all the visitors and locals enjoying their gelato. “Ahh, I love Italian desserts,” you will hear.

While this is true, Sicilian desserts are on a whole different level – of course, in my humble opinion.  How blessed are we in New Orleans to have a specialty gelato and dessert shop whose owners hail from the island of Sicily. The Brocato family came over from Cefalu, Sicily at the turn of the century. Angelo Brocato set up his gelato shop in the French Quarter. The rest as they say was history. The Sicilians who flocked to New Orleans to find a better life, loved visiting Brocato’s. Soon, Brocato’s moved to its present day location on Carrolton Avenue in Mid-City New Orleans.

Of course, they have gelato. But their other desserts are just as delicious.  Spumoni, Cassata, Bisquit Tortoni, Torrancino, and of course, Cannolis -to just name my favorites.

Next time you find yourself in New Orleans, or, if you are a local and have some time to kill in Mid-City, step back in time and enter Brocato’s. You will not regret it.

Chip LoCoco